Brooke Sauvage heads to the Central Business District to check out a new public sculpture by Ashley Pridmore.
Artist Ashley Pridmore had been reading the travel journals of geographer Alexander von Humboldt while dreaming up St. Kampos, 2018, her skeletal seahorse sculpture on the Poydras Street neutral ground, she said in an interview with WWNO. Von Humboldt’s maps were accompanied by drawings of sea monsters that she felt might “signify the unknown” to early explorers, “what could be lurking in the depths.” As the latest installation in the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition, Pridmore’s vertebrate joins a strip of eclectic sculptures that adorn the mainstay of the Central Business District, where office buildings and hotels jostle for a spot in the skyline.
The name St. Kampos is Pridmore’s play on words, deriving from the Greek name for “seahorse,” a combination of the root meaning “horse,” hippo, and the root designating “sea monster,” kampos. (This makes for a funny visual—the ancient Greeks thinking little seahorses could be monsters at all.) In our modern context, the name of Pridmore’s sculpture, St. Kampos, could be thought of as “St. Monster.”
Earlier this spring, Pridmore’s truck proceeded down the busy thoroughfare in mid-morning traffic to install the sculpture, led by three representatives from the Krewe of Kolossos on “art bikes,” tricycles decorated with papier-mâché animals. Once St. Kampos found solid ground, cars zoomed around orange cones set up to afford room for a few choice spectators. Pridmore perched atop her sculptural pet, as a photographer cursed at vehicles disregarding the cones and knocking them askew.
The eight-foot seahorse, stretching skyward in cast bronze, is a handsome beast. St. Kampos is all spine, which is what makes it interesting, considering how skeletons have become ubiquitous in the visual language of horror, presumably in that they represent death. But what’s so terrifying about something that we all possess, that animates our every move?
We can abide by fear, assume it unassailable; or we can drag it into the light of day, face it, and exonerate it like a funny seahorse statue on Poydras Street. Monsters are often overblown only in our imagination. There’s a comfort in abiding by monsters; perhaps we’re really afraid of our own power.
Channeling von Humboldt, Pridmore seemingly asks what is at stake in shifting our perspective on fear, in moving the unknown to the known. What might we find when we drag sea monsters out of the depths? Will we shudder at the shape of their spine, or will we laugh when we find out that these fearsome monsters turned out to be little more than seahorses?
In St. Monster we trust.
Ashley Pridmore’s St. Kampos is on view as part of the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition on Poydras Street between St. Charles Avenue and Camp Street.